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Sporting stars enjoying setting their own schedule

By Jonathon Drennan

For the first time since they were teenagers, Stephen Ferris and Brian O'Driscoll are able to keep their own diaries.

Family and friends were in direct competition with professional sport that placed incredible demands on their time. Being able to attend a best friend's wedding, or simply meet a relative for a pint during the week were luxuries that eluded them as young men.

Professional rugby is a game of tiny margins, leading to schedules that are organised with military precision. In retirement, both men are relieved that their calendar is not dictated by a rugby club.

"The last few years for me became a bit arduous," O'Driscoll admits. "The issue was the fact that you couldn't really plan anything. We were encouraged to have outside interests, whether that was study, business or another sport, but it was very difficult to devote any time to them."

"I'm exactly the same as Brian", Ferris said. "I feel I'm busier now than I was when I was playing rugby. Anything that came up outside of the game, rugby used to take to have to take priority.

"It was just rugby, rugby, rugby. It's brilliant being able to do those simple things like book a holiday with more than a few weeks' notice."

Ferris and O'Driscoll enjoyed prodigious gifts on the rugby field. Youtube is filled with highlight reels of their feats. Their physical intensity and intelligence made watching them a thrill for thousands of people.

But in the midst of a career that was getting increasingly hard on their bodies and demanding on their time, did they ever get sick of it?

Ferris smiles: "Oh yeah of course, I definitely got fatigued with the game. You'd sometimes find yourself at training somewhere in Dublin at half 8 in the morning and it was freezing.

"When I started playing rugby seriously, it was pitching up at Dungannon for a bit of craic, the professional game was obviously a lot different."

His former captain agrees: "It took me a long time to work out exactly what was expected of a professional. From 2006 when Stevie started with Ireland to when it ended for both of us in 2014, I can't tell you how much the game changed. I was never shy of training, but I was never shy about enjoying myself."

Rugby in Ireland has never been more popular. The players are under intense public scrutiny, especially for Ferris and O'Driscoll, who still turn heads in Belfast and Dublin. Did they ever find the attention on them became too much?

"I kind of knew what to expect from Brian", Ferris said. "I remember seeing Drico walking out all wrapped up. I also remember you telling me about going out shopping late at night.

"But it's a lot harder for Brian than me. You are equally very flattered by the attention."

O'Driscoll's fame continues even after he has hung up his boots. He is constantly stopped for photos and autographs whether in Dublin or abroad.

"You just get on with it, I would never think woe is me, it's a huge compliment people want to talk to you. The only thing I have is I don't want Sadie to be in any photos, and people generally understand that," said O'Driscoll.

"Padraig Harrington (the golfer) gave me a great tip, he always used to get stopped at airports. He said put the kid on your shoulders, nobody will bother you then. It's an ego trip, people are really courteous."

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